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For the seventh straight year, Geoff Pickering and Mark Henderson driving their V6 Mitsubishi Pajero have taken victory in the 4x4 Production class on the gruelling 2008 Tattersalls Finke Desert Race, held near Alice Springs over the June long weekend.
The punishing 450km race to Finke and back through the northern reaches of the Simpson Desert took its toll with less than half the cars finishing again this year. The 2008 entry was massive and led the organisers to claim the mantle as the biggest off road desert race in the Southern Hemisphere. Close to 70 cars made the trip The Alice and the bike entry was oversubscribed more than a month out from the start forcing the organisers to close the list when they topped 500 bikes.
"It's the toughest round in the Australian Off Road Championship, that's why we're here and that's why we've again shown the Pajero is the car to beat in the heart of Australia's Red Centre," said Geoff Pickering at the finish.
"What makes it so tough is the straight line nature of the course. There's no possibility to service or repair the car until you reach Finke at the end of day one so if you strike a problem on the way down to Finke you need to be able to carry out the repairs with what you have on board. Too many competitors fail to pace themselves often forgetting they need to do it all over again on day two and that's when the problems take their toll on the field."
"It's not just outright speed which wins 'The Finke' its reliability and time and time again we've proven our V6 Pajero to more than able to meet the challenge. It never ceases to amaze me that a near standard 4x4 Mitsubishi can leave so many in its wake, it shows just how tough they build these Pajeros."
The heavy rain in the lead up to the event left the sand left hard packed and gave Geoff a great opportunity to overtake a number of the purpose built racing buggies that would normally have an advantage in the softer dry sand. For once, there was no dust, a welcome relief in a series that is notoriously dusty on the driest continent on earth.
"We had heavy mist for the first hour out of Alice Springs and we passed around 15 cars, the conditions really suited the Pajero," said navigator Mark Henderson. "It was cool and damp and the Geoff quickly found the right pace, we rounded up three cars alone on the high speed section south of Deep Well, I think we caught them by surprise!"
But it was not all plain sailing for the master tactician from Queensland. Around 60 kilometres from Finke, Pickering suffered a rare spring and then shock absorber failure on opposite sides of the car making handling of the Mitsubishi Pajero at speed through the huge red dunes a challenge for even the best of drivers. Not wishing to sacrifice even seconds to those behind, Pickering pushed on to the finish line in Finke knowing his service crew would be able to replace the damaged components for the run back to Alice Springs 24 hours later.
Head Mechanic, Bernard Grant, was philosophical about the breakages. "When you come to the Northern Territory for 'The Finke' you expect it to be tough, we're lucky to have made it there and back with such a minor problem, many others are still stranded along the way and it will be for some time until their service crews can retrieve the cars."
"To come away from here with our seventh straight victory makes me really happy. We spend many long hours checking and double checking components to ensure reliability in the lead up to the race. I deliver the car to the start line at 5am on the Sunday morning, give it a run to warm up the oils, then head for Finke leaving Mark and Geoff to get away when the time comes. There's no turning back then if they have a problem so it's imperative the car is in tip top shape when I leave them to it at the start line. The 430 kilometre drive via Kulgara on the Stuart Highway takes around five hours in the service truck and if I'm lucky I'll just beat them into Finke."
Victory in the Tattersalls Finke Desert Race is trophy sort by many yet only ever held by a few. Geoff Pickering's seventh straight win in the 4x4 Production Class stands testament to the strength and reliability of a vehicle that has also won the Dakar on multiple occasions.
The next round of the 2008 Australian Off Road Championship will be the Sunraysia 500 near Mildura in July.
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